Friday, July 8, 2011

Don't Use Automated Check-Out Machines at Supermarkets

     OK, I'll admit that this was not one of my major areas of concern. But with the exception of my comments about the Casey Anthony case, it seems nothing I have said or written about so far was as explosive as a comment I made on a Supermarket website for employees and executives which was that people should not use "self-checkout machines" as they were anti-labor, and in this economy, unpatriotic.

     This all happened by chance. I happened to have my Internet connection fail (seems I got a virus), so I went to the nearby public library to use their computer and Internet connection. Sitting next to me was a nice guy who was concerned about supermarket closures. He was on a website about Supermarkets in which one article happened to mention that one chain was discontinuing the use of automated check-out machines because people prefer dealing with real live human beings. As I believe these machines to be anti-labor, and consequently a small part of the destruction of the interrelated economic web which is thus destroying our economy, I refuse to use these machines, as I also refuse to use the EZ-PASS at tolls. I was not even aware that the later was anti-labor until a toll taker enlightened me in a quick but insightful conversation while I paid my toll.

      So I posted what I thought was a short, non-controversial comment to the article about my being glad these machines were being discontinued as they were anti-labor. (My comment is repeated below). Within 12 hours, I received more responses than any post, even those on my own blog and comments I made on such websites as CNN. While most of the comments were positive, some were incredibly insensitive to the plight of workers, who, already underpaid, now will face further layoffs or salary and benefit reductions as a result of automation.

     I have written a choice albeit insulting response to one insensitive and also slightly insulting comment I received, which if allowed to be published by the moderator, is sure to provoke an even greater and more virulent response. But my goal is not to incite controversy, but to save jobs. So since this is my blog, here is my position and the simple short comment I wrote.

David Ginsberg Yesterday 04:14 PM
I will never ever use an automated check out. It is anti-labor. Same thing for EZ Pass. It is not like tolltakers or cashiers are paid that much, and it is not like there are an abundance of other jobs which need to be filled.
To take away jobs or reduce wages, in this economy, is unpatriotic.

      While I have nothing against technology, progress. etc., there is something wrong with machines being created, used, and employed to merely replace the jobs for workers, with no replacement jobs available, especially already low paid workers who get little if any benefits. Especially when those machines don't work well (but this is an aside).

     So please consider this the next time you are tempted to use an automated check-out machine at a Supermarket, if you decide to switch to EZ Pass (or want to continue using it.)

Postcript: July 9, 2011 @ 1:24 PM
It seems my comment did not get through the moderator, so I re-wrote it and restated my position in a less virulent but more detailed manner. Here is what I wrote:

as it was a passionate visceral reaction to your comments.

"Let me restate my comments in a less passionate more professional manner. First, my credentials (for calling these self-checkout machines “anti-labor” and the use of them “unpatriotic.”) I attended the University of Wharton’s School of Business and majored in economics (hardly an anti-business) organization. There, I was interested in management and labor relations, and took several courses in the field. I was interested because at the same time, I was working, to help pay for college, in what is essentially a union factory which prints and distributes the daily newspaper in Philadelphia (of course there is also an editorial side). I was a “non-union” extra. I attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania, where I continued my studies in management and labor relations, my work to pay for school, but also started doing legal work for the attorney for the union. Since graduating, I have almost exclusively represented Employers (some of whom have had labor problems) and all of whom were concerned with the bottom line and being competitive.

Second, my position. These “self-checkouts” are the quintessential definition of “anti-labor”. Unlike computers, they do nothing more than replace an existing position filled by a live human being. In fact, contrary to computers, they decrease efficiency. I used one once, and it was so problematic, I had to call the supervisor over five times. If even the weight of an item is off, it won’t register it. Computers, on the other hand, require a human to run them and greatly increase the competitiveness and efficiency of the existing workplace. Of course, to some extent, every increase in technology, including the invention of electronic calculators, creates a tension between increased productivity and decreases in the need for labor. It is a question of balance and context.

As far as “balance,” as I have tried to convince you, these machines don’t really increase efficiency, but instead simply replace paid employees with expensive machines with attendant costs. In the context of this economy, one must remember that there are a millions people who, due to no fault of their own, are unemployed and/or underemployed. Health insurance costs, gasoline costs, and other costs are skyrocketing. People are losing their homes to foreclosures in numbers which exceed the percentage which occurred in the “Great Depression.” This is not the time to increase the numbers of the unemployed.

Each action on our economy, both positive and negative, has ripple effects. Employed people pay their bills, spend money, and the places where they spend their money earn more profits themselves. Unemployed people stop spending, stop investing, and stop paying their bills. In extreme cases, they suffer foreclosures and/or need governmental assistance, which creates a greater strain on a budget deficit already near record levels.

Let’s look at in a simple manner. Would you rather see that employed grocery clerk working and paying their mortgage and paying their taxes or homeless and receiving welfare? I am sorry, but there are not enough jobs out there, even low-paying ones, and even if that grocery clerk gets a job, someone else will not get it." 


  1. you are right... you can also find latest Fresher jobs alerts online.

  2. Its called progress!
    Remember telephone operators? They have also been progressed out!
    You know who!
    Have a nice time at the pool? lol

  3. Mr. Ginsberg. It is hard to believe that someone with your education and credentials would not automatically be biased against honest hard working labor.

    I think your position was very very correct, well spoken, and intelligent. Moreover, you clearly have the credentials to say what your said.

  4. An economy that keeps people in jobs that we have no need for, simply because there's nothing else for them to do and we feel like they must be forced to work SOMEWHERE, needs to be abolished, not supported. There is no moral justification anymore, when we have to urge ourselves to refuse machine labour because humans need to do that labour or be left to starve.

  5. Firstly re: the luddite accusations: not everything that is new is progress!! Techno-worshippers seem blind to the fact that there is such a thing as decadence, decline in civilisation, I see these community-bombing-drones as clear decadence:

    for me the people at the checkout are the most interesting and important thing in the supermarket. I usually don't talk to them much but in my view facial and body language are worth a thousand words, and usually more sincere.

    I'd say it is hard for corporate CEO's to understand this, since being narcissists (they invariably are, ask any psychologist) they see other people as objects to be used, no different to the items on the shelf, also being psychopaths (they are also usually co-morbid) they often view others as obsticles, the people at the checkout for instance.

    It is true civil society is falling to bits, populations of psychopaths & narcissists are growing exponentially in the first world, largely due to technological "progess", so there are more and more sickos who will like this technology, this is their choice.

    Actually I'm glad this has happened, I've been shopping at small bussinesses in my neighbourhood, like I should have been doing all along, and have discovered there is still lots of humanity and common decency about.

    (In case you're wondering why I'm using a computer when I hate technology so much, well I only use it in an absolute emergency).

    Have a great day Mr Ginsberg & commenters.

    -David Nicholls

  6. This is a real hard blog post for me to comment on. For one thing I used to be a supermarket cashier but as a shopper I have used the self-service registers mainly because I like to bag my groceries in a certain way.

    But you have brought up a very interesting topic and I'm going to ask my former co-workers about it when I see them again

  7. Dear Rose:

    First, thanks for reading my Blog and especially thanks for commenting. I respect your point of view. Please allow me to share my thoughts. I also like to bag my own groceries, and use the cashiers to check me out, but bag my own groceries. Very few grocery stores provide separate baggers any more.

    But even so, and perhaps it is because I am empathatic, but everything I learned as an economics major at the Wharton School and as a follower of economics ever since firmly convinces me that these machines do nothing more than cause people to loose their jobs. It is possible that your former co-workers are unemployed, directly or indirectly, because of these machines.

    What is worse, some of these people, do to their unemployment and the lack of jobs in the economy may have even lost their houses. In any event, I can assure you that every job lost has a trickle effect throughout the economy. Less taxes are paid to the government. Less money is spent in other stores. It goes on and on.

    Many workers do not understand the effect on automation, especially when they do not loose their jobs. It is more confusing because there are two kinds of automation, one which reflects competitive technological advances. Computers are an example of this. Computers require workers, but allow those workers to be more productive. This is one side of the coin.

    But these machines simply replace people with machines, and I am against that. They increase corporate profits, nothing else. In fact, Albertsons removed them because of customer service complaints.

    As a funny ancedote, my nasty ex-wife, who could care less about unemployed people and the suffering of others, was using one of these machines and the scanner part (which apparently is movable) fell on her foot causing her to break her foot. I would not term the acedote as "funny" except that she has expressed so much contempt and disdain for my views, including my concern for social, legal, and political justice. She thought my Blog on this topic was ridiculous.

    So please let me know what your coworkers think. Also, are you the person I left a comment on your Blog? If so, please e-mail me at

    David M. Ginsberg